Not In My Back Yard


One particular story William enjoys telling is about Miss Marian.
His Tennessee drawl thickens as he recounts a life-changing
experience with Miss Marian.

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“As the bus driver for the county school bus,” William says, “I’ve
come to know a lot of the people of East Cleveland. Furthermore,
I’ve come to value them and their needs. One of my favorite
neighbors from The Backyard is Miss Marian. Known as Granny by
most, or at least by me, I’ve enjoyed her friendship for many

“I remember one January day two years ago, my 70-year-old friend
Granny leaned on her rusted fence outside her single-wide trailer
and said, ‘Will, I sure am glad for what you do to help them kids.
I don’t want ‘em to grow up like me. I’m too far gone, but they

“As I left her trailer that afternoon, my heart echoed the term
‘love.’ Marian needed desperately to experience genuine love.
Unattached love. Love given in service not language.

“Realizing that our first goal in The Backyard was to empower
people to change their own world, a seed was planted in my heart by
the Holy Spirit. That next week would prove the worth of our
existence in this disadvantaged community.

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“On the next Tuesday afternoon, after unloading the school bus, I
stopped in to check on Marian. I asked her to go with me to a party
on Wednesday afternoon.

” ‘A party,’ she said. ‘I like parties.’

“‘Okay, Marian. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 4:15.’

“The next morning as I stopped at the bus stop in front of
Marian’s trailer, it sounded like a war zone. Our conversation was
muffled by children’s laughter and crude remarks as they made fun
of Marian and her early-morning attire. Marian stood on her front
lawn with her hair half curled.

“She was happy to see me, though. She yelled at me, ‘Will, you
still gonna pick me up? Hey, is there gonna be some men at this

“When I returned that afternoon to unload the students, Marian met
us once again. Her hair was fully curled with large rolling-pin
curlers this time. She and the children began their normal routine
of making fun of each other as the tension began to boil.

“As I pulled away, I heard her yell, ‘See ya’ at 4:15! Hey! Is
there gonna be men at the party?’

“I turned the corner and yelled back, ‘Yes, Marian, I’ll see you
and there will be plenty of men at the party!’

“After completing my bus route, I quickly changed vehicles and
rushed to Marian’s trailer to take her to the party. When I
arrived, I was amazed at what I saw. Standing in her doorway was
this short, smiling little figure of a lady. Curlers were out, and
her hair carefully combed with little success. Hanging from her
ears were the prettiest long Christmas tree earrings I’ve ever
seen. Her Christmas spirit had spilled over into the middle of

“As I entered her trailer, I could hear her heart crying out to
know if there were ‘gonna be any men at the party.’

“‘Are you ready?’ she asked. I held out my arm as her escort, and
Marian interlocked arms with me. She stopped and looked at me with
big eyes of anticipation.

“‘Is your wife okay with me and you going to a party?’ she

“‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘she actually gave me the idea.’

“Finally we were in the car and on our way. Marian’s eyes were
closed tight; she was as giddy as could be. The Backyard house is
two blocks from Marian’s trailer. As we pulled up the hill that
Wednesday afternoon, the sight was breathtaking. There were 89
people standing in the front yard of our old house waiting for the
special guest to arrive.

“I helped Marian out of the car. She kept her hands over her eyes.
She didn’t know it, but the same children that regularly made fun
of her stood before her with their tutors. Like a choir, they began
to sing the song that reaches even the loneliest of all hearts:
“Happy Birthday to You.”

“Her hands fell from her face, tears flowed, and Marian shook like
a tub of Jell-O with emotions of joy and disbelief at the same

“‘Happy birthday, Marian!’ everyone yelled, sending echoes through
the entire neighborhood. This was the first birthday party Miss
Marian had ever had in
71 years.

“The next hour or so was filled with sights that only heaven could
orchestrate. Seated in the place of honor, Marian had the first
piece of cake. She was overtaken by hugs and handmade cards from
some of the same children who had mocked and jeered at her three
hours earlier.

“After the party when I stopped at the street in front of Marian’s
little trailer, she looked at me with tears in her eyes. ‘Will, I
need an album for all these cards.’ She hesitated and then the
tears flowed. ‘Do you think I can go to that church with you

“It was like an explosion! I almost ran the stop sign. I had asked
this woman for five years to come to church with me. That next
Sunday, sitting with my family and me, Miss Marian  stood to
invite Jesus Christ into her heart.

“Marian who has outlived two husbands and is looking for a third
has never been able to bear children. She now has 47 of them in her
neighborhood who call her Granny.”

“It works,” William says. “People can be taught to give, and
positive results happen.”

William Lamb and The Backyard staff have learned that investment
works. They are making a difference in one back yard from the
inside out.

Contributors: Gary Riggins, William Lamb, and Christine Yount

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